Is it Wine o'clock in Uganda yet? Ugandans go to the polls on Thursday in a presidential election pitting current leader Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, against opposition chief Bobi Wine, a former pop star turned politician. The campaign period has been, in Wine's words, "a war and a battlefield" — authorities have arrested and assaulted him and shot at protesters who support him. The vote will occur amid a social media blackout that the government imposed after Facebook removed the accounts of some pro-Museveni activists, and the integrity of the vote has already been questioned by the EU and US. Museveni, one of Africa's longest serving leaders, is popular in the countryside, where he is lauded for having brought stability, growth, and subsidies. Wine is more popular among young and predominantly urban Ugandans who want change — Museveni has held power since before 80 percent of Ugandans were even born. Tensions are extremely high ahead of the vote, and the possibility of post-election violence is real.
Iran ups uranium enrichment: In its most flagrant violation to date of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran confirmed that it had started enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at its Fordo facility. Under the deal, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018, Tehran was only allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent purity (not enough to build a nuclear weapon) and was required to stop enrichment at its underground facility at Fordo altogether. Washington — and the Israelis — say this recent development reflects Iran's mendaciousness, but Tehran argues it's merely a response to the US going back on its word and imposing crippling economic sanctions in recent years that have squeezed the Iranian economy. Meanwhile, the Iranians have also engaged in bellicose activities in the volatile Strait of Hormuz, seizing a South Korean tanker that it says breached its maritime sovereignty. This week also marks one year since the US slaying of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani, an event that ratcheted up US-Iranian tensions — and one that Tehran has vowed to avenge in due time.
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EU rolls out vaccines: As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise throughout the European Union, the bloc on Sunday officially kicked off its campaign to vaccinate roughly 450 million EU residents against the disease. But even as shoulders are bared for the needle across the Union, two fights are already brewing about the process. First, Italy is concerned that Germany may be getting more than its fair share of the precious shots based on its population — as agreed to by EU member states — because a German company, BioNTech, jointly developed the EU-approved vaccine with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Second, problems with maintaining the drugs at the required ultra-cold temperature have already led to vaccination delays in Spain. The challenges now are to ensure all EU member states inoculate their residents at a similar pace, to overcome vaccine skepticism across the bloc, and to avoid shortages while waiting for other vaccine candidates to get approved.
This year has been disastrous on so many levels as the COVID crisis wreaked havoc around the world. While coverage of the once-in-a-century pandemic dwarfed everything else in 2020, we have seen other huge political stories this year that will continue to shape the world for years to come.
We, your four Signal writers, each chose one big story that, to one degree or another, went under the radar as the global health crisis took centre stage. What do these tell us about the current state of our G-Zero world?
Indian farmers' hunger strike: After three weeks of protests over legislation that farmers say will threaten their livelihoods, Indian agriculture workers upped the ante on Monday when they began a day-long hunger strike that they hope will pressure the government to scrap the new laws. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government says that three reforms passed in September amid the pandemic are meant to liberalize the country's robust agriculture sector (which accounts for 15 percent of India's GDP) by lifting requirements that farmers sell their harvests directly to state warehouses — which guarantee a set minimum price in return. Many agricultural workers, a group that includes about half the country's 1.4 billion people, fear that the laws will benefit big corporations that can increase their market-share by driving down prices and forcing smaller farmers out of business. Protests outside New Delhi continue to intensify, and some demonstrators have blocked highways leading into the capital and set up sprawling tent cities to wait out the political crisis. Modi's government has offered amendments to the legislation, but the demonstrations — and the political stakes — continue to grow.